When summer hits, there’s one place for certain that Lionel and I can be found: the drive-in!
After moving to Chattanooga, we were immediately on the lookout for a new spot to park the car, set up the lawn chairs, and watch some films. Lucky for us, the Wilderness Outdoor Movie Theater was just around the corner!
Located in Trenton, Ga, about a 20-minute drive from downtown Chattanooga, the Wilderness Outdoor Movie Theater is a sight to behold for movie lovers of all ages. With two gigantic screens (one which they claim is the largest in the world), huge lawns for playing catch, picnic tables to eat at, and a great concession stand, it’s really the perfect place to spend a summer night.
Lionel and I have frequented a couple different drive-ins in our days, but this is by far the best one we’ve seen yet!
Located in the North Georgia mountains, the rural landscape is gorgeous, and I enjoy the short ride there, the sun setting over the hills, almost as much as I love reaching our destination. Gates open at 7:30, and we always make sure to arrive a bit early so we can park our little car up front.
There are two gigantic screens, and each night boasts a double-feature for $7.00 per person—outlandishly cheap, considering the average U.S. movie ticket today cost about $8.50 for just one show. Being horror fans, we couldn’t pass up Screen 2, which was playing The Conjuring 2 and The Darkness.
Arriving early at the drive-in is a must in my opinion, whether or not you want a spot in the front row. The first film starts about 9:30, when the sun is good and set, but those two hours before showtime are half the fun.
After setting up our tarp, lawn-chairs, and radio, Lionel and I play glow-in-the-dark frisbee or movie trivia games. There are huge, green fields in front of the screens and around the property, with areas to spread out blankets or walk your furry friends.
Everywhere there are kids running around playing tag, throwing footballs, and catching lightning bugs. It reminds me of my childhood, and it’s absolutely magical.
After we’ve worked up an appetite, and as showtime edges closer, Lionel and I make our way to the concession stand. Everything looks clean and new at Wilderness, even the restrooms, and the place is so well-staffed we rarely have to wait more than a couple minutes to get our food.
Though some drive-ins I’ve been to let you to pay a fee to bring in outside food or drinks, this one doesn’t. The reasoning behind the policy is sound: concessions are how they pay the bills. And I’m all for helping to keep such a great establishment alive.
Besides, the menu isn’t bad and the prices are right. A regular hamburger is $4.75, a soda $3.00, refills on drinks and popcorn $1.50. By this point, we’ve tried almost everything on the menu, and though nothing is fancy, we’ve never been disappointed.
For our horror double-feature, Lionel got a bacon cheeseburger ($5.25) and fries ($3.00). I got a chili cheese dog ($5.00) and a pretzel ($4.00). Lionel’s burger was a bit burnt, and the patties are almost certainly frozen, but he said it had that “backyard-grilled” kind of flavor, which was fine in his opinion.
The fries are always good. My pretzel was soft and buttery while it was still hot, though I suspect it was microwaved from the way it hardened up after cooling. The hot dog was larger than I’d expected, and tasted just fine, though I think next time I’ll get it without all the extra toppings. Their chili, which they sell by the bowl ($3.75) isn’t my favorite, and the nacho cheese sauce wasn’t doing it for me.
In the past, I’ve enjoyed their chicken tenders ($4.50). They have lots of good sauces for dipping. And if you’re gonna eat nacho cheese, you might as well do it with chips ($4.50).
Between films, there’s a 20-minute intermission, just enough time for Lionel and I to stretch our legs and complain about how much worse The Conjuring 2 was than its predecessor. Spoilers: The Darkness wouldn’t turn out to be any better. (If you think we’re hard on food, you should hear our movie critique podcast!)
We took a walk to refuel on snacks, getting a bucket of popcorn ($4.75) and a funnel cake ($5.00). The popcorn was nice and buttery, but a bit too salty for my taste. However, I can’t recommend the funnel cake enough. A fried, bread-y, mess, topped with a heap of powdered sugar, it’s exactly what you’d get at the fair—and that’s exactly what I’m looking for.
Overall, I don’t think you can go to a concession stand expecting gourmet. And sure, if I ate the same food in a restaurant, this review wouldn’t be nearly as positive. But the prices at Wilderness are fine for the quality and portions, and Lionel and I are always happy with our meals.
My only suggestion would be that they offer something—just one or two items—that are a bit on the healthier side. Some fresh fruit? A grilled chicken sandwich or salad? For those of us who frequent the drive-in so often, considering we can’t bring in anything from outside, the junk food overload can be a bit much.
Otherwise, I really have no complaints. If it isn’t apparent already, this is one of my favorite places to spend a warm summer night, and the food is absolutely part of that experience.
Drive-ins reached their peak in popularity during the 1950s and 60s, and at one time across the U.S.A. around 4,000 of the theaters could be found. However, competition from at-home entertainment over the decades has caused the vast majority of such theaters to go under.
Though a drive-in revival during the early 2000s led to a small resurgence, as of 2014 there were less than 350 drive-ins nationwide. Tennessee is one of the luckier states, with more than a dozen theaters still in operation. However, continued patronage is a must to keep such venues alive.
We’re lucky to have the Wilderness Outdoor Movie Theater so close-by and in such fantastic condition. Whether you take your special someone out for a romantic night under the stars, or bring the whole family along for the adventure, I can’t really say you’ve lived till you’ve been to the drive-in.
Location: 217 Old Hales Road, Trenton, Ga 30752
Hours: typically Fri – Sun 7:30 p.m. - ? / late spring through early fall